A Conversation with Target’s New CEO Brian Cornell

Brian Cornell - target

Hiring an outside leader for the first time, Minneapolis-based Target announced today the hiring of PepsiCo executive Brian Cornell as the new Chairman and CEO.

Cornell, replaces interim CEO John Mulligan, who stepped in when Gregg Steinhafel resigned in May. He will leave his post as CEO of PepsiCo Americas Foods, where he oversaw the snack business including Frito-Lay North America and Quaker Foods. He will assume his new role as Target CEO August. 12.

Cornell previously served as CEO of Walmart’s club store Sam’s Club and Michael’s craft stores, and as chief marketing officer at Safeway.

As the retailer welcomes their new Chairman and CEO, Brian Cornell, the official Target blog A Bullseye View sat down to learn more about who he is, his priorities and what we can look forward to as he joins the Target team.

You are the first CEO who has been hired from outside of Target. What are the benefits of coming in from the outside? What will be some of the challenges?
I have had the benefit of looking at the retail industry from two vantage points. From a consumer product standpoint, I’ve worked with so many great retailers around the world and understand the current retail landscape and the changes that are taking place. I have also been in this seat before at Safeway, with Michael’s and also at Sam’s Club. I have a deep appreciation and respect for the challenging retail environment and for the important functions within retail, like store operations, merchandising, marketing, finance. But even more importantly, I understand the importance of building great teams. I think all of this gives me a unique perspective that will help fuel our success going forward.

You are arriving at Target with a strong background in grocery. Is that your passion and will that be an emphasis as you begin your new role?
My passion is building loyalty and delighting consumers… something that Target does extremely well. This brand’s promise of Expect More. Pay Less. is as relevant today as it has ever been, and my emphasis will be ensuring we deliver it in all aspects of our product, experience and communications.

It’s been widely reported that Target needs to transform digitally. Do you think you bring the right background and experience to truly advance Target’s omnichannel efforts?
Advancing Target’s omnichannel presence is critically important and it’s at the top of my list of priorities. I have been close to the changes business and consumers have experienced over the last few years, and I have an acute understanding of how important it is to connect stores, online and mobile. For us to create the Target of tomorrow, all three of those elements have to work in tandem.

My experience in this area is fairly broad. At Safeway, I ran the Safeway.com business, which was a joint venture with Tesco.com. And at Sam’s Club, we developed the “Click and Collect” program. More recently, at PepsiCo, I have spent a lot of time interfacing with virtually every retail customer as they tackle this challenge.

I understand what omnichannel means for Target’s future and I am committed to making it happen.

Why did you decide to take on this role at Target? Are you a fan of the brand?
I have certainly admired Target throughout my entire career and recognize the iconic nature of this brand. Target has an extraordinary history and many, many guests who absolutely love the brand. That said, taking on this role was not an easy decision. I have a lot of respect for PepsiCo — it is a tremendous company with a spectacular portfolio of food and beverage brands and a rock solid team. It’s never easy to leave something like that behind.

When I told my daughter I was leaving PepsiCo, her reaction really solidified things for me. She’s 28 and has grown up in a household that loves Pepsi. She was so disappointed to hear I was leaving until she asked where I was going. When I shared the answer, she simply said, “Dad, I love Target!”

I know that’s the reaction I will get again and again when people hear about my new role. I am really excited about the future of this company and being a part of the team that will develop the Target of tomorrow.

As someone who has worked in retail, what’s been your impression of Target?
I would start with the people. Across the industry Target has been viewed as an academy company with some of the best and brightest in retail. I have always looked at this company with admiration for the team, its capabilities and the strength of the brand – I’d say the connection Target has forged with its guests is enviable.

What will your first day on the job look like (i.e. what will be your top priorities)?
I will start by stepping back and really listening and learning. I want to spend time with the leadership team to understand the business from their vantage point and work collaboratively with them to build upon the work done during the last 90 days. I am impressed with what I’ve seen and look forward to setting priorities for the future and partnering with them to accelerate traffic and sales and build out our omnichannel experience.

What’s your favorite thing about shopping at Target?
I always enjoy watching other shoppers while I am inside a Target store. I love seeing how young families, especially moms with kids, connect with the brand. It’s amazing to see the appreciation and excitement that can be created.

What are you looking forward to most about living in Minnesota? Least?
I am really looking forward to being part of the community. I have spent a lot of time in Minnesota and have made a lot of great friends here as result. I’m excited to be closer to them, and as a sports fan, I can’t wait to spend more time at Target Field and Target Center. The restaurant scene is top notch too.

I am also personally on the board for Polaris Industries, which is based in Minnesota. It’s given me a new appreciation for the winter season. I am already shopping for a new warm coat for next winter!

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Christopher Durham
Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.